Scientific Reports (Jul 2021)

Decreased thalamo-cortico connectivity during an implicit sequence motor learning task and 7 days escitalopram intake

  • Eóin N. Molloy,
  • Rachel G. Zsido,
  • Fabian A. Piecha,
  • Nathalie Beinhölzl,
  • Ulrike Scharrer,
  • Gergana Zheleva,
  • Ralf Regenthal,
  • Bernhard Sehm,
  • Vadim V. Nikulin,
  • Harald E. Möller,
  • Arno Villringer,
  • Julia Sacher,
  • Karsten Mueller

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 11, no. 1
pp. 1 – 14


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Abstract Evidence suggests that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) reorganize neural networks via a transient window of neuroplasticity. While previous findings support an effect of SSRIs on intrinsic functional connectivity, little is known regarding the influence of SSRI-administration on connectivity during sequence motor learning. To investigate this, we administered 20 mg escitalopram or placebo for 1-week to 60 healthy female participants undergoing concurrent functional magnetic resonance imaging and sequence motor training in a double-blind randomized controlled design. We assessed task-modulated functional connectivity with a psycho-physiological interaction (PPI) analysis in the thalamus, putamen, cerebellum, dorsal premotor, primary motor, supplementary motor, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices. Comparing an implicit sequence learning condition to a control learning condition, we observed decreased connectivity between the thalamus and bilateral motor regions after 7 days of escitalopram intake. Additionally, we observed a negative correlation between plasma escitalopram levels and PPI connectivity changes, with higher escitalopram levels being associated with greater thalamo-cortico decreases. Our results suggest that escitalopram enhances network-level processing efficiency during sequence motor learning, despite no changes in behaviour. Future studies in more diverse samples, however, with quantitative imaging of neurochemical markers of excitation and inhibition, are necessary to further assess neural responses to escitalopram.